(CN) – A Spanish supermarket’s installation of secret surveillance cameras to combat employee theft violated cashiers’ right to privacy, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.
Hoping to solve an employee theft problem, the owners of family-owned supermarket MSA in Sant Celoni, Spain, installed both visible and covert video cameras. Supermarket management told store employees about the visible cameras but not about the hidden ones, so employees did not always know when they were being filmed.
The five employees who brought the action before the EU rights court were caught on tape helping co-workers and customers to steal merchandise and also stealing for themselves, and the store fired them. Three of the five signed agreements acknowledging their involvement and promising not to bring labor lawsuits if the store did not prosecute; two did not. All five eventually sued anyway, but courts upheld their terminations.
So the five employees took their case to the rights court, arguing the covert surveillance violated their privacy rights. The three who signed settlements also complained they had done so under duress.
The rights court agreed that, under Spanish law, the store had an obligation to inform the employees of the covert surveillance. And while the rights court found the employees received fair trials, it said the courts failed to strike a balance between the workers’ privacy expectations and the market owners’ rights in the case since the covert surveillance violated Spanish law.
Because the rights court found the courts at fault, it ordered the Spanish government to pay the workers nearly $4,800 each in damages.